Constructing a good argument - Deepstash
Constructing a good argument

Constructing a good argument

At its core, an argument consists of a conclusion and one or more premises, or claims.

  • The conclusion is what the communicator wants his or her audience to accept.
  • The premises are the reasons for believing the conclusion to be true.

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It does not use reasons that contradict each other, contradict the conclusion or explicitly or implicitly assumes the truth of the conclusion. Checklist:

  • Does the communication include at least one reason to support the conclusion as being true? If not, it is not an argument, but an opinion.
  • Could any of the key premises be interpreted as making the same claim as the conclusion? If so, then it’s a “circular argument” without independent reason given to support the conclusion.
  • Do any of the premises contradict another premise, or does the conclusion contradict any of the premises?

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  • Structure: Explicitly call out your conclusion and the supporting reasons.
  • Relevance: Ensure that all materials you’re presenting as part of your argument are relevant. 
  • Acceptability: Soften any absolute claims to make them more acceptable. (e.g. “most politicians” instead of “all politicians”) 
  • Sufficiency: Put yourself in your audience’s place, and see if the reasons are sufficient to accept your conclusion.
  • Rebuttal: Declare upfront what the weakest parts of your argument are and proactively address them.

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A good argument includes an effective rebuttal to all anticipated serious criticisms of the argument. Arguers often use arguments that misrepresent the criticism, bring up trivial objections as a side issue, or resort to humor or ridicule are using devices that clearly fail to make effective responses. Checklist:

  • Does the provided argument address the strongest counterarguments effectively?
  • Does the arguer anticipate and address serious weaknesses in the argument?
  • Does the argument show why alternative positions are flawed?

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A premise should be acceptable to a mature, rational adult.

The claim should meet the following standards:

  • It is a matter of undisputed common knowledge.
  • It's confirmed by one’s own personal experience or observation.
  • It's an uncontroverted claim from a relevant authority.
  • It's a relatively minor claim that seems to be a reasonable assumption.

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This principle is a judgment call. Checklist:

  • Are the reasons provided enough to drive to the arguer’s conclusion?
  • Is the premise based on insufficient evidence or faulty causal analysis? Some premises provide evidence that is based on too small a sample or unrepresentative data.
  • Is some key or crucial evidence missing that must be provided in order to accept the argument?

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The relevance of a premise

A premise is relevant if it provides some bearing on the truth of the conclusion. Checklist:

  • If the premise were true, does it make you more likely to believe that the conclusion is true? If yes, the premise is probably relevant.
  • Even if the premise were true, should it be a consideration for accepting the truth of the conclusion? If no, then the premise is probably not relevant.

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Premise 1: I can’t explain or imagine how proposition X can be true.

Premise 2: if a certain proposition is true, then I must be able to explain or imagine how that can be.

Conclusions: proposition X is false.

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The belief bias

The belief bias is a cognitive bias that causes people to over-rely on preexisting beliefs and knowledge when evaluating the conclusions of an argument, instead of properly considering the argument’s content and structure.

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A straw man argument is a misrepresentation of an opinion or viewpoint, designed to be as easy as possible to contradict.

The only purpose is for it to be easy to expose. It’s not an argument you happen to find inconvenient or challenging. It’s one that is logically flawed.

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